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Despite Controversy, RLAs Move In

By Nancy L. Keuss and Shankar Mukherji


Despite months of heated discussion surrounding the role of the administration in MIT dorm culture, the four Residence Life Associates have begun to settle into their respective residential zones.

The RLAs, who assumed their positions August 14, are now housed in Next House, McCormick Hall, the Eastgate Apartments, and Building NW30, the Albany Street warehouse recently converted into a graduate dormitory.

Offices for both RLA and non-RLA personnel were recently installed in Burton-Conner House, a move that eliminates some residential space.

Critics have deemed the move part of a disturbing trend that involves administrators quietly encroaching on student life. Others question the need to house more administrators at a time when many dorms are feeling the acute effects of a campus housing crunch.

“In a nutshell, I think this was a good idea implemented at a bad time and in a sloppy way,” said Burton-Conner resident James L. Hardison ’02.

Burton-Conner residents have complained of being given insufficient notice that non-RLA personnel would also be afforded accommodations in dormitories.

“What burns me about this situation is that no one thought to clue in the residents,” said Hardison. “By that I mean notifying affected residents of what is going on in a timely enough manner so that those residents can give their input.” Hardison said that it might make more sense to fix what is already in place, such as instituting better checks on Graduate Resident Tutors and housemasters.

Still, the RLAs have undergone extensive orientation activities to acclimate themselves to MIT residential life.

“The RLAs are attempting to get to know the particular culture of their assigned residence zones,” said Katherine G. O’Dair, Assistant Dean of Residential Programs.

An early August arrival to the MIT campus allowed the RLAs to acclimate themselves to the area and attend the necessary training and orientation events. The RLAs’ time at MIT so far has been characterized by constant discussion with students, staff, housemasters, and other members of the Institute community.

Job description meets changes

Though the RLA program has drawn considerable student criticism, O’Dair said that the elimination of the program was never considered. The Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs (RLSLP) did, however, revise the RLA job description based on student, staff, and housemaster input.

The most recent version of the RLA position includes such responsibilities as “crisis response, event planning, activities support, training, and effective communication between MIT’s student life administration and residence halls, both graduate and undergraduate.”

RLA plans not warmly accepted

When MIT drafted preliminary plans to place a Residence Life Associate in Senior House, students reacted negatively to the proposal. In March, the idea to house an RLA is Senior House was rejected altogether.

“This is something that was ultimately resolved properly but that started off on the wrong foot,” said Andrew G. Brooks G, a Graduate Resident Tutor at Senior House.

Brooks’ understanding of the Zone 1 (Westgate Apartments, Eastgate Apartments, East Campus, and Senior House) arrangement is that the area’s RLA will instead be highly involved with graduate students.

RLAs settle into residence zones

Selection of the four associates -- Tony E. Gray Ph.D. ’01, Chandra L. Mincher, Gabrielle Pardo, and Aaradhana K. Prajapati -- was done with the help of a committee of students, housemaster, and staff, who interviewed a group of candidates.

Gray, who served as a Graduate Resident Tutor in East Campus for seven years, will live in NW30 and assume the RLA position for Zone 2, which includes Edgerton House, Green Hall, Ashdown House, Random Hall, and Bexley Hall in addition to NW30.

“Gray brings strong mediation, problem solving, and programming experience, as well as a breadth and depth of knowledge of MIT,” O’Dair said.

Gray expects the position to be challenging but rewarding. “I hope to be very involved with the students in my zone,” Gray said. “I think one of the important aspects of this job will be getting to know as many students as I can, listening to them and figuring out what they want and need from their RLA.”

Mincher, who for three years has served as a residential director at New Hampshire University, will take on the RLA role for Zone 3, which consists of McCormick, Baker House, and Burton-Conner. She will live at McCormick.

According to Tom Gonyea, Associate Director of Resident Life at New Hampshire University, Mincher made a significant impact on university residential life through her work with the university’s Outright Group and Pride Group by “increasing diversity awareness in the student population.”

Pardo served for two years as Assistant Resident Director in the Office of Residential Life at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where in May she received her Masters of Science in Mental Health Nursing. Pardo, who has experience in counseling, training, programming, and promoting student communities, will live at Eastgate but work with Zone 1, which also includes Westgate Apartments, East Campus, and Senior House.

The RLA for Zone 4 (MacGregor, New House, Next House, and Tang Hall) will be Prajapati, who served as Hall Director for two years at Eastern Connecticut State University. Prajapati, who in May received her master’s degree in Educational Leadership in May, and will live in Next House.